RFID attendance - brilliant or nuts?

Northern Arizona University is using RFIDs to track student attendance. While this might actually make some sense in certain secondary school settings, it's a hard pill to swallow for paying adults.

Our high school is moving to a new scheduling model this coming year. Since it involves significantly shorter class periods, we've been thinking about ways to make it easier for teachers to take attendance in the SIS. I jokingly suggested that we simply tag the students with RFID devices so that their attendance is taken automatically when they walk passed sensors in the doors. Our SIS supports the use of a bar scanner for attendance, so why not RFIDs?

Once I got my tongue out of my cheek, and started talking about single sign-ons and other enhancements to our various systems that would shave at least a few clicks off of attendance for teachers, I came across a university that is actually using RFIDs.

Northern Arizona University is cracking down on students cutting class, which completely offends my sensibilities in a university setting where students are not only independent but are paying for the course. However, the University claims,

NAU spokesperson Tom Bauer...said the university’s main goal with the sensor system is to increase attendance and student performance.

“People are saying we are using surveillance or Orwellian [tactics] and, boy, I’m like ‘wow,’ I didn’t know taking attendance qualified as surveillance,” Bauer said.

In fact, the only place this makes sense is in a public secondary school setting where attendance is mandatory and generally subject to state and federal reporting requirements. I'm not talking about subcutaneous implants or ear tags like the cows above, but the RFIDs in student IDs would be a real enhancement for everything from lunch to attendance to discipline.

It's one thing to be a little Orwellian with minors in a public high school. It's completely another to do it with paying adults. Even at the high school level, privacy concerns would probably raise big red flags with parents, but a carefully documented policy and the use of sensors only in specific places to log the comings and goings of students from classrooms rather than to track their every move could actually provide some real potential value. Northern Arizona's approach, though, sounds like a recipe for disaster.